Just as Sir John Soane’s Moggerhanger Park has been restored after twentieth-century alterations, so his own country seat, Pitzhanger Manor, has been returned to a state that its architect and first occupant would recognise.
By 1800 Soane had established his career: he was appointed architect and surveyor to the Bank of England in 1788 and clerk of works for St James’s Palace and the Palace of Westminster in 1791, and purchased and rebuilt the town house at 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields that now forms part of the Sir John Soane Museum in 1792.
Though Lincoln’s Inn Fields was ideal for conducting his busy architectural practice he sought a convenient country retreat where he could entertain clients as well as friends. He purchased a house called Payton Place, which he renamed Pitzhanger Manor, in Ealing on the London-to-Oxford turnpike that provided easy access to and from the capital.
The village of Ealing was becoming fashionable: Soane’s neighbours at the start of the new century included HRH Prince Edward (1767-1820), newly-created Duke of Kent and Strathearn, and Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), remembered as the only British prime minister to have been assassinated.
Soane had first encountered the Payton Place building in the late 1760s: he worked on the south wing when he was apprenticed to the architect George Dance the Younger (1741-1825).
He bought the property for £4,500 and demolished all but Dance’s south wing, replacing it with his own design, completed in 1804. Soane and his family lived there only until 1810: he became estranged from his two ne’er-do-well sons and his wife Eliza preferred to live in town. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields he purchased and rebuilt the adjacent houses, 13 and 14 which, with No 12, now form the Museum.
The three-bay centrepiece of Pitzhanger Manor echoes Robert Adam’s south front at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, and is derived from the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome. Whereas earlier eighteenth-century architects had used ashlar or stucco to set the tone of their exteriors, Soane here contrasted brick and Portland stone, and stretched the narrow façade with a lofty attic. The buildings bristles with statues and medallions of Coade stone, the twice-fired hard-wearing artificial ceramic that was prevalent from the early 1770s to the late 1840s in London and elsewhere in the British Isles and overseas.
Pitzhanger Manor is rather like Tardis: it seems bigger inside than its exterior suggests. This is because Soane retained the Dance wing to the south and his service buildings to the north were replaced in 1901-02 when the house became Ealing’s public library.
Like Moggerhanger Park, unsympathetic institutional use allowed a practical restoration.
From 1985 until 2019, in gradual stages, the London Borough of Ealing and the Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery Trust have transformed the place into a sympathetic restoration of the historic house, with the library wing adapted as an excellent modern art gallery. On the site of the former walled kitchen garden stands Soane’s Kitchen, an attractive modern café-restaurant: Pitzhanger » Eat & Drink.
For details of opening times and events at Pitzhanger House, visit Pitzhanger » Current Events.